Some space debris believed to be from a Chinese rocket splashed back down to earth, onto the 3.5-square kilometers South China Sea. The Western media has made a lot of noise about China’s space exploration projects but these efforts are recognized by the United Nations as part of Mankind’s “peaceful exploration of space for Mankind’s benefit” and have set up rules and conventions on the conduct of such activities -including the management of space debris issues.
The Western media never passes up any opportunity to distort an incident to distort and misrepresent in order to malign China, Filipinos should learn this by now but hasn’t. Philippine media and officials have not learned from the long record of disinformation, fake news and outright black propaganda against China – and always leading by the nose Filipinos who are willing to buy the American story line without any critical thought first.
It’s a good time to recall cases of disinformation of the West again, such as the Simularity case where a US NGO in July 2021 reported a Chinese ship spewing human excrement in its wake in the SCS when it was later shown it was a photo of a ship in 2014 the Australian Great Barrier Reef dumping tailings – a misrepresented photo then defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana exposed to the media a week later. I thought Philippine media would learn a lesson from that, but apparently not even today.
Then there’s the April 2021 case of the “Zambrano Chinese Coast Guard chase” that never was where ABS-CBN reporter faked a story alleging Chinese Cost Guard “missile vessels” chased her out of the Ayungin Shoals which turned out to be a figment of the ABS-CBN reporter’s imagination using some staged video clips, reportedly all for the funding (see Pinoy Esposé of the “Institute for War and Peace Reporting”. Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the NED (National Endowment for Democracy).
In the alleged “seizure” of space debris the headline exaggerations of Western media are obvious, such as the VOA and AP’s “Chinese Coast Guard Seizes Rocket Debris From Filipino Navy” (11/20/22), and then the Inquirer sensationalizing it further “Chinese vessel, PH Navy boat face off in Palawan waters” and “Blasts heard in Pag-asa Island after PH, China sea encounter” while provincial news reports “WESCOM, PNP confirm China ‘forcefully’ took rocket debris from Philippine navy”.
WESCOM spokesman Major Cherryl Tindog said of the incident, ““Maximum tolerance naman tayo sa gano’n eh, so parang ano, since it’s unidentified, then not a matter of life and death naman ‘yung object,” Tindog told the media. “Nag-decide na lang ‘yung ating team na ano, na bumalik na lang dun sa NSEL.” (… the item was unidentified and not a matter of life and death so the team decided to return to the NSEL (Naval Station Emilio Liwanag)…..”
The Chinese embassy, however, denied that there was blocking involved. It also expressed gratitude towards the Philippine side for helping retrieve the space debris. The good will between the two countries smoothen the seas for such friendly encounters. There may have been some negative perception in the process as some report says but there is a language barrier that may have caused such misunderstanding, if there was any at all in reality.
Part of the Chinese embassy response I quote here:
“Relevant reports are inconsistent with facts. Here’s what happened according to the spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry. At around 8:00 am on November 20 a China Coast Guard ship found an unidentified floating object in the waters off the Nansha Islands, which was later identified as the wreckage of the fairing of a rocket recently launched by China. Before the China Coast Guard found the said floating object some Philippine Navy personnel already retrieved and towed it. After friendly consultation the Philippine side returned the floating object to the Chinese side on the spot. The Chinese side expressed gratitude to the Philippine side. There was no so-called blocking of the course of a Philippine Navy boat and forcefully retrieving the object at the scene.”
So, there has really been much ado about a little incident, a tempest in a teapot so to speak. Then we get the news of the National Security Adviser Clarita Carlos recommending a “note verbale” to China over the “space debris” incident. Shall this be another “protest” added to the more than 500 the DFA boasted about? Maybe we can’t blame Madame Carlos for being so defensively reactionary in her recommendations, she is under constant siege herself.
Technically, however, we should take our cure from the UN which has protocols about “space debris” under its convention on the peaceful uses of outer space. The SCSPI monitoring group over the South China Sea for China twitted this in response to the many misleading reports about the incident: “SCSPI – According to the international law and the principles adopted by the UNGA, the ownership of objects launched into the outer space and of their components belongs to the launching States. Wherever they are found, such objects and components shall be returned to the launching State.”
I scanned several items from the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (delighted to learn that there’s such an office) but found them so voluminous that I opted to read articles about them. One I found was from a lawyer on “Solving the Space Debris Crisis” by Paul B. Larsen, Georgetown University Law Center. One section was about “RETURN OF DEBRIS, Article VIII of the OST provides that space objects, including their components, found outside their state of registration must be returned to the state of registry upon proof of ownership.” That confirms SCSPI’s contention and it was right for the Philippines to turnover that piece of debris it found in the Pagasa area, although nobody went through the process of forensic identification of the object. We can all safely assume that it does not belong to the Philippines since we have no space program and China did just send out several rockets into space in the recent weeks and months past. The Philippines is already establishing its own space agency, very soon cooperation with China’s space program will ensue.